Tag Archives: Faithfulness

God’s People, part 258: Silas

Read Acts 15:40-41

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate ‘Yes,’ he always does what he says.”  (2 Corinthians 1:19, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 258: Silas. As with many of these people mentioned in Acts and in Paul’s epistles (letters), there is not a whole lot that is historically known about the life of Silas. We are not told who he was, where he came from, what his trade was, or anything apart from his association as being a fellow missionary with Paul. In fact, even Silas’ name is uncertain. In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, he is exclusively referred to by the Greek name, Silas. In Paul’s epistles, and in the first Epistle of Peter, he is named Sylvanus.

There is little doubt among scholars that Sylvanus and Silas are the same person. It could be that Sylvanus was the Romanized version of the Greek name Silas. Or it could be that Silas was a Greek nickname for Sylvanus. Regardless of what name he actually went by, Silas was a Christian who, along with Judas Barsabbas, was considered highly as a leader and a prophet.

After Paul and Barnabas separated, Paul chose Silas to be his partner and fellow missionary. While Barnabas traveled to Cyprus with John Mark, Paul and Silase embarked on Paul’s second missionary journey, which started off by traveling and ministering to churches in Syria and Cilicia. The account in Acts says that they strengthened churches in those areas.

Of course, that was where their missionary journey began, not where it ended. Paul’s association with Silas begins in Acts 15 and continues through Acts 18. In those chapters, we learn of the successes they had as well as the trials and tribulations. It was on this missionary journey that they met and converted Lydia who housed them during their stay in Philippi. Because she was located in what is now considered Europe, she is often referred to as the first European convert. Whether she was the first or not, she certainly was the first documented European convert.

Of course, Paul and Silas were both imprisoned while in Philippi and Lydia offered them to stay at her house following they were released. While in jail, though, an earthquake broke their cell doors open; however, they did not try to escape. As such, they became a powerful witness to the jailer who also converted to Christianity. They traveled and were met with resistance in Thessalonica, they convereted many more people in the more receptive city of Berea, and they debated with philosophers in the Areopagus in Athens, Greece.

From there Silas traveled with Paul to Corinth. Corinth was not an easy place for Paul to win converts or to establish a church. As his two existing epistles to the Corinthians indicate, Paul was deeply troubled and perplexed by that church. Acts records that after a while of preaching in this city, Paul “kicked the dust off of his sandals” and left Corinth. It appears that Silas may have stayed behind to continue ministering to the Corinthians; however, this cannot be certain. What is certain is that after Acts 18:5, Silas is never mentioned again. I do not think there was a rift between him and Paul, but his staying behind may have been planned and intentional.

The acts of Silas, friend and fellow missionary with Paul, should inspire us all. Here was another person of God who was willing to lay aside his life and place in society, and follow Jesus Christ at great cost to himself. He was imprisoned, threatened, and nearly lynched; however, his faithfulness led him to, along with Paul, establish the beginnings of the church in what is now modern day Europe!  We too can be just like Silas. The challenge for us is to open our hearts to Christ and to follow him where he leads. Are you willing to do this?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“By faithfulness we are collected and wound up into unity within ourselves, whereas we had been scattered abroad in multiplicity.” – St. Augustine of Hippo

PRAYER
Lord, Help me to remain faithful like Silas, even when it is hard to do so. Amen.

God’s People, part 255: John Mark

Read Acts 13:13; 15:37-39

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When you make a promise to God, don’t delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. Don’t let your mouth make you sin. And don’t defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 255: John Mark. Traditionally, John Mark has often attributed as the “Mark” who wrote the New Testament, also known as Mark the Evangelist. He was first introduced in Acts 12:12 as being the son of a woman named Mary. He was introduces as “John who was also known as Mark.” In that time period, it was not uncommon for Jews to have their birth name and also have a Hellenistic name as well. John was a Jewish name and Mark was a Greek name. So, this person’s name was actually John and Mark was not his surname, but another name he went by.

Still, he is known to us as John Mark to distinguish him from other Johns in named in the New Testament. John Mark was the cousin of Paul’s mentor, partner and friend Barnabas. In Acts 12:25, we find out that he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Paul (Saul at the time), an indication that he was now working with them as a missionary.

In Acts 13:13, something inexplicable happened. We are told that, on one their missionary journeys, John Mark abruptly left the company and returned home to Jerusalem. We cannot be sure why he left as Luke never elaborated on that; however, you can feel the abruptness in the way Luke writes about it: “Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.” From there Luke carries on with Paul and Barnabas and John Mark falls out of the account for two chapters.

He’s next mentioned in Acts 15:37-39. In that passage, Paul invites Barnabas to go with him to visit the cities they’ve visited in the past to check on the believers there. Barnabas agreed to go with Paul, but he wanted to bring John Mark along. Paul strongly objected to this. It says in verse 38, “But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work.”

It is here where we get to see into the event back in chapter 13. We still don’t know why, but it becomes clear that John Mark’s abrupt exit from their missionary journey was viewed by Paul, if not Barnabas and his other companions, as a desertion. Paul felt he abandoned them and he would not have such an unreliable person joining them, for obvious reasons.

While we cannot be sure what Barnabas felt at the time that John Mark abandoned them, John was still his cousin and wanted to include him in their journey. In fact, he not only wanted to, but was sharply insistent on it. As a result, Paul and Barnabas could not come to a compromise and ended up ending their partnership. They chose to separate. We cannot really judge either one of them because, again, we don’t know the details and why Paul felt this was an unacceptable desertion; however, both felt so strongly in their opposing viewpoints that they could no longer work together. This was tragic turn of events for sure.

Still, what we, as Christians, should pull from this is the importance of being reliable and faithful to our local church community. When we commit to something, we should remain committed. We should not desert our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ and put others in the position of having to defend or oppose our involvement, as sometimes can happen.

This is not an uncommon thing in our time. Many people abandon their church family for lots of frivilous reasons. Disagreements or a disliking of the pastor, sports or other child/teen activities, wanting to sleep in, and other various things can cause people and their families to drift away from their commitment to the Church and it’s mission. People vow to serve the Christ’s church when they become members, but don’t really view that vow as binding or important. As a pastor, I have seen the hurt that causes relationally, and I have seen it also cause division in the church. What’s more, it can cause the church to fall into despair over a perceived and real decline in church family members. It is a loss the church can’t help but sincerely grieve.

Friends, this should challenge us. Why do we, as Christians, feel that our faith vows are secondary at best to the other things the world is offering? Shouldn’t that be reversed? Shouldn’t our vows to God and each other hold far more weight than personality differences, sports, laziness, and other things? Let us be challenged to return to our vows and uphold them. Let us put Christ and His church first in our lives, so that we can once again instill a foundation of faith in our children, and further the work of bringin heaven, and the reign of God, on earth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.” – James the Just (James 5:12, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, keep me and my family on the path that leads to the fulfillment of my vows to you. Amen.

God’s People, part 239: Stephen

Read Acts 7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.”  (Acts 6:10, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Craughwell-STEPHENPart 239: Stephen. When it comes to Stephen, not a lot is known about him prior to becoming a Christian. One can assume he was Jewish because, unlike “Nicholas of Antioch”, a foreign location was not added to his name. Aside from that, all we have to go on is what is found in Acts 6-7.

We first learn of Stephen in Acts 6, where he was described by Luke as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (v. 5) and “a man full of God’s grace and power.” He was one of the seven deacons that the Apostles appointed to judiciously take care of the distribution of food to the church. Thus, Stephen was one of the seven people ensuring that everyone would get food and not be discriminated against.

At some point a group of Diaspora Jewish freedmen, or freed slaves, got into a debate with Stephen. It is not certain where this happened; however, the result of the debate did not end well for Stephen. According to Luke, he evidently won the debate, which further enraged these Hellenistic Jews. Luke says that they persuaded some men to lie about overhearing Stephen blaspheme against Moses and God. To “blaspheme against Moses”, more than likely, meant to blaspheme against God’s Law or Torah, which was given from God to the Israelites through Moses.

Thus, as a result of that charge, Stephen was arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin to be tried for blasphemy. Of course, the punishment for blasphemy was death by stoning. Thus, Stephen’s life was very much in jeopardy. These were serious charges, as was the fact that Stephen was following Jesus, whose death the Sanhedrin was partially responsible for.

Before we go further, I want to clear something up. I have seen Stephen’s words used by ultra-conservative Christians as a way of perpetrating anti-semitism. I have also seen ultra-progressive Christians call Stephen’s speech as the most antisemitic speech in the Bible. Both sides are wrong. Stephen was not an antisemite, as he was Jewish. He also was not speaking out against ALL JEWS, but rather against the Jewish Religious Leadership…aka the Sanhedrin! That context matters and needs to be acknowledged.

Stephen, knowing the jeopardy he was in, did indeed give an impassioned speech that brought his audience on a journey through Jewish history. He honored Moses and the prophets in his speech, but he also called out the pattern of resistance and persecution that were inflicted on the prophets by the religious establishment and Jewish leadership. In doing this, he severely angered the members of the Sanhedrin and, consequently, was stoned to death for blasphemy. His last words as he died were, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin.” In other words, his last words were a prayer for forgiveness for those who were killing him.

In the midst of adversity, Stephen’s love for Jesus Christ took over and he did not let fear or consequence stand in his way of preaching the Good News. It cost him his life; however, his witness (martyr is Greek for witness) has endured the last 2,000 years. As people of God, we are being called to have Stephen’s passion for Christ.  We are being called to stand up for the truth and to preach the Good News to all people everywhere, even if that means facing the consequences for doing so. There are different ways in which we are each called to be faithful witnesses. I hope you will reflect on how Christ is calling you to be his witness in your community.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.” – Søren Kierkegaard

PRAYER
Lord, help me be as faithful a witness as Stephen so that, through me, others may see the glory of your salvation offered freely to them. Amen.

God’s People, part 200: Faithless

Read Mark 9:14-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.”  (1 Peter 1:21, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

jesus-heal-boy-1Part 200: Faithless. In today’s Scripture, we have a very interesting account where we get to see both the humanity and divinity at play within Jesus. When we picture Christ in our minds, we see this jovial, nice, guy with a smile on his face and a lamb over his shoulders. He’s surrounded by children as he sits on a rock for storytime. He’s calm and serene; sometimes, he’s even glowing (e.g. halo).

Yet, that is merely a two-dimensional view of Jesus, at best. In today’s passage, we see a wholly different side of the Lord. He heard a bunch of arguing and questioned what that was all about. It  was then that a man, whose son was possessed by an evil spirit, spoke up. He told Jesus that he asked the disciples to cast out the spirit and they simply couldn’t.

In that moment, we see a frustration in Jesus we have yet to really see before this point. Jesus vents out to them, “’You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.’”  (Mark 9:19, NLT) This of course, caused the disciples to begin to worry if they Jesus was referring to them. Did the Lord actually view them as “faithless”? Thus, when they were alone, they later asked Jesus why they were unable to exorcise the demon. Jesus revealed that “this kind can be cast out only by prayer” (Mark 9:29, NLT).

In my reading of this, while the disciples sometimes displayed a lack of faith, Jesus was not frustrated with them. He knew they had no way of knowing how to specifically cast out the evil spirit. What’s more, they attempted to, which means that they were NOT lacking in faith. Instead, they were stepping out in it.

What this then reveals to us is that Jesus’ frustrations lay with the people who sought help from the disciples. It is there that we see the faithlessness that Jesus was upset about. The people came to the disciples looking for a service to be performed and, when they could not deliver, they came bickering and griping about it to Jesus.

It was that sentiment that frustrated Jesus. They wanted to see the result before they would believe and, when the final product was not delivered on time in they way they were anticipating, they grew angry. They approached the disciples and Jesus as if they were a means to an end, as if they were some sort of miracle producing side-show. They approached them in faithlessness rather than in faith. Of course, Jesus healed the child anyway, but not before making an example of those who came seeking the healing.

It is this that we are being challenged with today. Do we have a relationship with Jesus Christ? Do we place our faith solely in Him? Do we spend time getting to know him or do we merely seek him out when we need something. Do we see Christ as our ultimate and eternal end, or do we simply try to use Him as a means to some sort of self-gratifying end? Let us truly reflect on this and remember that Christ is LORD. Him, and Him alone, do we serve. Let us do so faithfully.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” – Anonymous (Hebrews 13:8, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I believe in you. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

God’s People, part 109: Ezra.

Read Ezra 9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So on October 8 Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand.” (Nehemiah 8:2 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 ““”” Part 109: Ezra. What’s important to understand is that the people we have been discussing the past several devotions are connected to each other in personal relationship and/or in historical circumstance. In the case of today’s subject, Ezra was personally connected to Nehemiah. Born in Babylon during the Babylonian Captivity, Ezra had never been to Jerusalem, nor did he ever lay eyes on Solomon’s Temple before it was destroyed. In other words, Babylon was all Ezra knew.

So we can imagine the excitement, as well as the fear, that ran through Ezra as he returned back Jerusalem. What’s more, he could not have possibly realized what challenges would have been awating him in Jerusalem. It is imporant to note that Ezra was not among the first to arrive in Jerusalem, nor was he among those who dealt with the struggles of rebuilding the Temple or the wall; rather, he was a part of the second wave of Jews who returned.

It is important to note that Ezra-Nehemiah were originally one book that ended up getting split up. Though we have yet to discuss Nehemiah, by the time Ezra returned to Jerusalem Nehemiah had already built the wall and Ezra wrote, “[God] revived us so that we could rebuild the Temple of our God and repair its ruins. He has given us a protective wall in Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:9). Thus Nehemiah was among the first wave to return and Ezra returned following him and his leadership on the wall construction project.

Ezra, on the other hand, played another important role in this historic moment for the people of Judah. When he returned, he noticed people were not living as God had commanded them. Some of the Jewish people who originally returned had married into non-Jewish families and were beginning to be led astray. That and the struggles of rebuilding the Temple and reclaiming Jerusalem had proven to set back progress of reestablishing God’s people in their homeland.l

Ezra, ever mindful of the cost of sin having spent his whole life up to that point in a foreign land, called the people to strictly observe the Torah and its laws. Obedience to God’s law, Ezra argued, would keep Judah from falling back into sin and into the threat of destruction. Being lax and not obeying God was not an option. He read to them the Torah and enforced the observance of the law. Ezra’s focus on strict observance of the Jewish Law would eventually become the focus of another group of Jews called the Pharisees.

As Christians, we may feel the temptation to ask how this is all relevant to us. We are not longer bound by the law, right? It is true that through Jesus we have been freed from the letter of the Law; however, in and through Jesus we begin to live into the fulfillment of the law. In other words, Jesus works the heart of the Law (LOVE) in us and calls us to put that LOVE on display toward others. Are we open to the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit? Do we remain faithful to him and the LOVE that he has called us to? Ezra, if nothing else, challenges us to reflect on our loyalty and faithfulness to Jesus Christ who is the fulfillment of God’s Law.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“By faithfulness we are collected and wound up into unity within ourselves, whereas we had been scattered abroad in multiplicity.” Saint Augustine

PRAYER

Lord, I submit myself to you. Forgive me my trespasses and give me the strength to be faithful. Amen.

God’s People, part 77: Jehoshaphat

Read 2 Chronicles 18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Some time later King Jehoshaphat of Judah made an alliance with King Ahaziah of Israel, who was very wicked.” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:35‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 77: Jehoshaphat. What a name, right? Jehoshaphat was the son fo King Asa. As we discussed the last devotion, Asa was a fairly righteous king; however, in the end he chose to make alliances to secure his own security and power, rather than relying and trusting God. He was scolded for that by his prophet, whom he had imprisoned and put in stocks. So, while he was certainly a decent king in comparison to the wicked kings, he was far from perfect.

The same could be said about Jehoshaphat, who became king when he was 35 years old and whose rule lasted for 25 years. Over all, as the Bible attests to, he “was a good king, following the ways of his father, Asa. He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight.” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:32‬ ‭NLT‬‬). What’s more, the Chronicler says that, “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the example of his father’s early years and did not worship the images of Baal.” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭17:3‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬‬‬

Unlike other kings in Judah, and certainly unlike the kings of Israel, Jehoshaphat distanced himself from “evil practices” and followed the commands of God. He destroyed shrines and altars to Baal and tore down Asherah poles. He sent priests with his officials on a tour of the kingdom of Judah, carrying with them the Torah, and they taught people the laws of the LORD. In doing so, Jehoshaphat brought people back to the God they were in covenant with, the God who saved them, through Moses, from slavery in Egypt.

Jehoshaphat was so respected, and his God was so respected, that no one dared to declare war on Jehoshaphat and his kingdom experienced prosperity and peace under his rule. In fact, the Philistines even brought the king gifts of silver as a tribute and the Arabs brought him 7,700 rams and 7,700 male goats as a gift. As the king grew more and more powerful, he fortified Judah and secured it with great storage of food and supplies.

With all of this said, Jehoshaphat was not perfect, and he did make mistakes. He, like all kings, as a politician and tried to be diplomatic where he could. This is not a bad thing per se, but it can lead to unhealthy compromise. He allied himself with King Ahab of Israel, even in arranging for his son to marry Ahab’s daughter. This alliance led him directly into a battle that was against what God wanted. The prophet Micaiah had prophesied and warned them from going; however, Ahab dismissed this and Jehoshaphat went along with Ahab. This almost cost him his life and Ahab did lose his life in the battle.

The Bible also says this of Jehoshaphat, “During his reign, however, he failed to remove all the pagan shrines, and the people never fully committed themselves to follow the God of their ancestors” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:33‬ ‭NLT‬). So, for all the good he did, some of his compromises ultimately countered any progress he made and set the Kingdom of Judah up to fall in the future.‬‬

There’s wisdom to be learned here. How many of us make seemingly small compromises in our faith and in our spiritual discipline that, overtime, add up to set us back BIG TIME. Or if those compromises don’t set us back, perhaps they have had lasting negative effects on our families. The challenge for us is to maintain our spiritual discipline, grow in our faith, and not compromise on what God is calling us to do. Healthy compromise is good; however, when it comes at the cost of our relationship with God, that is not healthy. The challenge for us is to remain faithful to God and to have the humility to return to God when we find we are not. By our own power, this is not possible…but in God, all things are possible.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”” — Jesus the Christ (Matthew‬ ‭19:26‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

PRAYER

Lord, apart from you I am hopeless; however, in you, I am empowered and through you all things are possible. I put my trust and my faith unwaverinly in you. Amen.

God’s People, part 61: Solomon

Read 1 Kings 11:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race.” (Ecclesiastes‬ ‭1:12-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 61: Solomon. There are few people IN THE WORLD who have not heard the name of King Solomon. He is one of the most romanticized of the Biblical personalities and he is remembered for many great things. In fact, when we think of Israel, especially Jerusalem, we more than likely view it post-Solomon and not pre-Solomon. He had a lasting and indelible effect on the history of the Jewish people.

He was known for his incredible wisdom, for his illustrious lifestyle, for his countless women, and his torrid romance with the Queen of Sheba. He was known for his great building campaigns and, at the top of the list of things he built, he was especially known for the building of the first Jewish Temple. Solomon’s reign was the height, the golden years if you will, of the United Kingdom of Israel. With that said, it was also the quick and fiery downfall of the United Kingdom as well.

While Solomon might be known for many great things, and is widely considered to be the wisest of all the kings of Israel, it goes without saying that even the wisdom of the great Solomon ended up falling a bit short. What’s more, like all of the rest of the kings, Solomon proved to be yet another example of how power muddies the water and poisons the well. Solomon, at best, was an embodiment of contradictions.

For instance, Solomon is known for his building of the great Jewish Temple. This temple was to be the “House of God”, where the Spirit of the LORD would literally be enthroned. This temple was not just good for the Spiritual health of the United Kingdom of Israel; however, it was great for commerce, for tourism, and for the economic growth of the kingdom as well. People from all over the world traveled to Israel to see the great Temple built by the great king.

And that brings us to what Solomon is NOT commonly known for: building temples to foreign gods for the tourists. That, in today’s day and age, probably doesn’t sound that bad, right? I mean, that is just being accommodating of diversity and showing hospitality to foreigners. If we are saavy capitalists and/or economists, we might also note how economically genius that was because, in the ancient world, temples also doubled as banks and currency exchange.

Yet Solomon, in the end, turned to those false gods and began to worship them himself. It is one thing to be accommodating, it is another thing to stray away from one’s relationship with God. The author of 1 Kings places the blame on Solomon’s wives and his old age; however, the truth be told, Solomon began to see himself above God. So much for wisdom, right?

The king, who had assassinated all of his opposition at the outset of his rule, had generally brough peace and contentment to the people of Israel; however, in the end, he forgot that peace and contentment come out of our faithfulness to God. As he grew more and more unfaithful, the façade of peace and contentment began to crumble and the state of the Kingdom grew frail and weak. In the end, Solomon died and the Kingdom instantly became divided among his son Reheboam and his superintendent, Jereboam, both of whom were contending to be the Solomon’s rightful successor.

The result: The United Kingdom became the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, forever separated and at war with one another for their legitimacy, for land, and for power. This should cause us to see the damage done by unfaithfulness. God trusts us and desires a relationship with us; however, we so often stray from God for this reason or that. We even allow excuses to justify our unfaithfulness, but in reality, we only have ourselves to blame.

The challenge for us is to admit we’ve been unfaithful in the areas we have, and to turn our hearts back to God. It is there, in a faithful and committed relationship to our Lord, that we will find true peace, contentment and joy. It is also in the context of that relationship, that we will realize that it is ONLY with God that we are capable of greatness. Apart from God, we are merely consigned and doomed to our own designs which lead toward destruction. Today’s challenge, reaffirm your commitment and your faithfulness to God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Unfailing love and faithfulness protect the king; his throne is made secure through love.” —King Solomon (Proverbs‬ ‭20:28‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

PRAYER

Lord, give me the wisdom to see where I have been unfaithful and the integrity and strength to turn back to you.

God’s People, part 32: Gideon

Read Judges 6-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.” (Hebrews 11:32 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

GideonPart 32: Gideon. If there is one thing that is consistent, it is that people forget quickly the things that lead them astray. This is true in the accounts of the judges. Following each judge, it reads, “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…” This is usually followed by God handing them over to their enemies. While that is the way the authors articulated it, what really happened was that the Israelites got too big for their britches and found out that they were no match against some of their enemies. God was not punishing them; rather, their own sinful propensity of ignoring God left them facing the unintended consequences of their own designs.

Out of those periods of unintended consequences, rose up new judges who were being called to bring people back to God. Gideon, was one among many of those judges. When one reads the three chapter account of Gideon, it is amazing how he was able to not only defeat the enemies of the Israelites, but he did so without ever forgetting who empowered him. When I think of Gideon, I think of people like George Washington who, after winning the Revolutionary War (a miraculous feat unto itself) and serving two terms as the first President of the United States of America, stepped down from the seat of power in order to hand it off to the next person in line.

Gideon was such a leader, for sure! When the Israelites begged the victorious Gideon to rule over them as a king, and to place his sons up as his heirs and successors, Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:23 NLT)! What faith, and faithfulness, it must have took for him to turn aside the lure of power.

Still, Gideon did not start off as such a commanding person of faith. As God called him, he found himself doubting that God was calling him. He puts God to the test to prove that God was really calling him. Even after the LORD proved to Gideon that it was God calling him, he still found himself fearful and in doubt. When God asks him to destroy the altar of Baal, and to cut down the pole dedicated to Asherah, he does so in the middle of the night so nobody sees him. Of course, one they see that both were destroyed, they end up finding out it was him anyway.

The point of this is that while Gideon’s story ends with him being shown as a warrior who protected his people against the vicious Midianites, he was far from perfect. He hesitated when he knew that God was calling him, stalling out of fear of failure as well as death. Instead of boldly stepping out in faith, he was sheepish and cowardly at first. Yet God did not hold that against Gideon at all. In fact, God humored Gideon in his tests and in his initial cowardice.

The point here is this, God is calling each of us into service. God is calling us to defend the defenseless, to speak out for those who have no voice, to protect those who are weak, to serve those in need of help, and to help people return to a right relationship with God. God has been calling us all our lives to such a divine purpose, but many of us have either ignored the call, or have been ignorant to it.

What’s more, when we do answer God here or there, it is often in a way that mirrors Gideon’s initial response. Yet God still called Gideon and patiently waited for Gideon to do what he was created to do, and God still calls you and is waiting for your repsonse as well. If you respond, if you make the effort to continually respond, over time you will become stronger in your faith and will begin to boldly step out with faith in service of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” – St. Augustine

PRAYER
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief so that I may grow in my faith as Gideon did, and answer your call to serve boldly. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: 99

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

The Sermon, part 20: Two Choices

Read Matthew 6:19-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT)

twochoicesIn Rabbinic Judaism, which developed following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple in 70 CE, three tenants or pillars developed in the Jewish faith. It’s not that these “pillars” didn’t inherently exist within Judaism; rather, it is that it wasn’t until post-70 CE that they were so coined. The pillars represented the way one was to remain true to Judaism without the existence of the Temple, which was the center of the Jewish faith. Thus, the pillars replaced the Temple as the center of the Jewish faith and provided a way for people to live up to the Jewish covenant with God in the absence of a Temple.

The three pillars are Torah (including the study of the Torah), avodah shebalev (worship of the heart, aka prayer), and gimilut chasidim (acts of loving kindness). In other words, in order to remain a faithful Jew following the destruction of the Temple, one had to study the Torah and live faithfully by it, one had to worship God in their heart through regular and persistent prayer, and one had to perform acts of loving kindness in the world around them. By doing this, one was living in a way that was a holy and living sacrifice to God. Since there was no Temple to sacrifice in, this was the way the Rabbis taught to express faithful devotion to God. In fact, one could argue that if people lived perfectly by the three pillars, there would be little need to offer sacrifices in atonement of sin. Clearly, the three pillars are a noble and holy way to aspire to.

Matthew 6:19-7:12 parallels the third pillar of Judaism: acts of loving kindness. Today’s passage, Matthew 6:19-24, kicks off the section with another antithetical form. In essence, Jesus states that people either store up treasure on earth, or they store up treasure in heaven. People either hold onto material goods that will eventually be lost, or they will attain everlasting goods. People will either have a clear eye and live life in the light, or they will have a bad eye and live an utterly hopeless and confused life in the darkness. People will either serve “things” or they will serve God.

These antitheses serve to remind us that we are always facing two choices: the choice to do what is right and the choice to do what is wrong, the choice to follow God, or the choice to follow ourselves. Our God is a God of action and, thus, it makes sense that Jesus would lay out these antitheses centered on what we do versus what we do not do. It is important that we not only “believe” in Christ, but that we FOLLOW Christ and that we live our “beliefs” out in tangible ways.

Jesus doesn’t take time to explain what “heavenly treasure” is, nor does he go into detail on how to attain it. That is beyond Jesus’ point and he leaves it open for his disciples to respond in creative ways unique to their own situations. In other words, Jesus leaves room for interpretation. Where the wiggle room stops here: one either is actively working for God, being set apart for God, or one is not. Christ makes that very, very clear.

In our world we often look at the eyes as the window that lets light into brain, which then interprets that light, and shadows, into the objects we see. The ancients, Jesus included, had a different understanding of the eye. For the ancient world, the eye was a lamp that shined light on what we were seeing, thus illuminating objects so that they can be seen. Despite the two different understandings of the mechanics of the human eye, Jesus’ point is made clear by the fact that he makes it in the context of money and material gain. If the eye is seeking material gain, the person it belongs to will be misled and lost in a state of confusion and darkness. Their entire way of seeing the world will be perverted by their “eye’s” focus, which is really the focus of their heart.

This of course, is followed up with Jesus famous “mammon” verse, where Jesus states that one cannot serve two masters, that one cannot serve God and “mammon” or money. The fact is this, Jesus is reminding all of us that we have to make a choice, do we follow God or do we follow ourselves? Do we recognize Christ as our Lord, or do are we lords over our own lives? The choice is simple. If we choose Christ, then the Gospels (and all of Scripture in the light of the Gospels) points us to what our lives ought to become. If our lives are not matching up with the Gospel, that means we are not fully committal in serving Christ alone. Each of us falls into this reality, but Christ has gracefully given us the measure, along with the Holy Spirit, to begin to change.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” (Edith Wharton)

PRAYER
Lord, you are the light. Open my eyes that I may see it, embrace it, and reflect it. Amen.